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John Schuhmann

American Airlines Center
The first game of the 2011 NBA Finals in Dallas will be Game 3, on June 5.
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Finals format another obstacle for Mavericks to overcome

Posted May 30 2011 11:37AM

MIAMI -- In the 2011 NBA Finals, the odds are against the Dallas Mavericks overcoming the big three.

Not those big three.

Yes, the Miami Heat's talented trio of Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will be difficult enough for the Mavs to defend. But it will be even more difficult for Dallas to defend its home court for three straight games.

Since 1985, in order to cut-down on cross-country travel for the hundreds of staff and media working the championship series, the NBA has used the 2-3-2 format for The Finals, with the team with the better regular-season record hosting Games 1, 2, 6 and 7.

Since then, the team which hosts Games 3, 4 and 5 has won just six of the 26 Finals (23 percent). In comparison, the "lower seed" in the conference finals has won 33 percent (18 of 54), using the 2-2-1-1-1 format, since 1985.

In order to win any series, the lower seed -- in The Finals, that would be the team with the middle three games at home -- needs to win at least one game in its opponent's arena. But in the 2-3-2 format, it likely has to do better than that.

Home games won by lower seed in Finals
Since 1985
Home games won No. Won series
Game 3 only 2 0
Game 4 only 3 1
Game 5 only 0 0
Games 3 and 4 4* 2
Games 3 and 5 5 1
Games 4 and 5 4 0
All 3 2 2
None 6** 0
* Includes one sweep with no Game 5.
** Includes three sweeps with no Game 5.

Three consecutive home games in the middle of a series would seemingly be a good thing. But a team that has already won three postseason series is going to be very difficult to defeat three times in a row, no matter the location.

In 26 years of 2-3-2 Finals, 15 teams with the middle three games at home have won at least two of the three. But only two have won all three: the 2004 Detroit Pistons and the 2006 Heat. They're the only lower seeds to win The Finals in the last 12 years.

If a team is the lower seed and can't win all three games at home, it has to win at least two on the road to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

Interestingly, there's no real formula for the Mavs to follow. The six teams that started The Finals on the road and won the championship all did it in different ways. No two of the six have won the same four games of the series. That may be good news for Dallas.

How road teams have won in 2-3-2 format

1985 Los Angeles Lakers -- Won Games 2 (Road), 3, 5 and 6 (Road)

1993 Chicago Bulls -- Won Games 1 (Road), 2 (Road), 4 and 6 (Road)

1995 Houston Rockets -- Won Games 1 (Road), 2 (Road), 3 and 4

1998 Chicago Bulls -- Won Games 2 (Road), 3, 4 and 6 (Road)

2004 Detroit Pistons -- Won Games 1 (Road), 3, 4 and 5

2006 Miami Heat -- Won Games 3, 4, 5 and 6 (Road)

The '98 Bulls lost all three road games in the conference finals (in Indiana) and then dropped Game 1 in Utah. But they managed to brush away those road woes in Games 2 and 6. (Actually, it would be more appropriate to say the '98 Bulls "pushed off" those road woes.)

The average NBA champion of the last 20 years has won just more than six playoff road games. After losing their first two of this postseason -- both in Portland, and one in spectacular fashion -- the Mavs have won five straight away from the American Airlines Center, a streak capped by an incredible comeback in Game 4 of the conference finals in Oklahoma City.

But the Heat have won all eight of their home games in the playoffs, and are 16-2 at AmericanAirlines Arena since March 10. So Game 1 of the Finals on Tuesday will match road streak vs. home streak.

A Dallas win in Miami on Tuesday would be a start. But unless the Mavericks can pull off what only two of their 26 predecessors have, their road work won't be done.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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